What to do with old cats who are loved but bad for our house/life?
January 15, 2014 11:21 PM   Subscribe

We have 2 cats who are about 15 (we got them when they were 4), and for many years they were like our children. They have grown old and gross, and now that we have real children, it feels like they are keeping us from being able to enjoy our life in our house. More details inside.

The 2 cats have been part of our family for over a decade. One of them always has had a sensitive stomach, and would occasionally vomit around the house (once a week or so). This was something we could work around without much of a problem. The cats live in the downstairs of our house, and the litter box is contained in the bathroom down there. We used to let them upstairs from time to time when we were there and able to make sure they weren't going to destroy anything.

About 4 years ago we had our first kid. For the first year we would take him downstairs to play, always checking the floor beforehand for barf, and cleaning up as needed before letting him play. Around that time the barfing started to increase to several times a week. Fast forward another year, and now the cat was barfing every day. In addition to this, the other cat would miss the litter box from time to time, and every so often would pee in the living room downstairs.

This has grown worse and worse, to the point where now there is almost always poop or pee outside of the litter box (usually a few feet away), there is almost always barf somewhere underfoot, and there are usually streaks or chunks of poop dragged out of the litter box and into the living room.

We had them taken to the vet not too long ago, they said that one of them had some thyroid problems, but other than that they were fairly healthy, and that the thyroid issue would likely lead to an earlier death, but the cat wouldn't be in any pain because of it.

Both cats seem to be relatively happy, but it's hard to tell, because at this point we just don't go into the downstairs of our house more often than is needed to do laundry and clean up whatever messes we see on the floor or the litter box. I haven't allowed my kids down there in the last year and a half, and I can't imagine allowing our youngest, who isn't walking yet, to go anywhere near there.

When we are down there on occasion, the cats are happy to sit in laps and snuggle, and don't seem to be in any pain or discomfort.

It's breaking my heart that we have been talking about whether or not we should put them down, but at this point I don't know what we can do. For as much as they have been a part of our family, we no longer want to spend any time with them, because what little time we have to spend with them ends up being taken up by cleaning up vomit/urine/poop/etc. We literally have a third of our house which pretty much goes unused, even though this part of the house was remodeled 5 years ago partially to be a play space for our kids.

So, at this point I guess I'm asking if there is any alternative to putting the cats down? We don't have the money to take them to more vets just to keep be told that they are just getting old, and even if they could tell us why this is going on, we wouldn't be able to afford any treatments. I don't think there's any chance of finding someone who would be interested in taking them, but I don't know what else we can do. Maybe one of you out there has some suggestions.
posted by anonymous to Pets & Animals (59 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Please don't have them put down. Take some cute pictures and put an ad on Craigslist to try to find them a new home. Also, contact a local cat rescue to see if they can help you. You never know who might take pity on these poor creatures...plenty of elderly people are willing to take older cats because they only have a few years left themselves.
posted by doreur at 11:32 PM on January 15, 2014 [5 favorites]

1. Give them to me. You'll have to pay for the international flights and quarantine fees though.
2. Deal with it. Clean up their mess and love them.
3. Take them to a rescue place, walk away and tell yourself you have done your best.
4. Take them to the vet and have them put down.
5. Find that rare person (who is not me) to take them from you. Maybe you could pay for a year or two of their cat food as a thank-you.

Couple of things. My parents put down aged cats who were unable to do their business cleanly when we were kids and bubbies. On the other hand, I probably played with said poop and stuff as a kid myself. Grew up strong and healthy.
posted by Kerasia at 11:38 PM on January 15, 2014 [4 favorites]

I'm going to disagree with the Craigslist idea. Animals that are given away on Craigslist may meet a horrible end. Also here and here. Can't trust Craigslist.

There are some really good feline vets in Seattle (I am guessing that is your location based on previous questions). Contact one and ask them for recommendations for cat rescues and contact them. One rescue up there that I know of is MEOW in Kirkland. Or, the vet's office may know of someone looking for a cat. There are people out there that adopt older animals.

Good luck!
posted by bolognius maximus at 11:42 PM on January 15, 2014 [7 favorites]

I was in a similar situation not that long ago. My wife died and I was left with her two cats, neither of which I ever really wanted al that much, and one of which vomited at least three times a day (not to mention a 1-year-old) daughter.

I got the same advice here that you will, about trying to re-home them and putting them on craigslist and taking them to a rescue organization, etc.

The fact of the matter is that nobody actually wants to take your cats. It is *easy* to get a list of generic types of organizations to contact that, in theory, will take your cats. It is possible to get a list of phone numbers for some places like this that actually exist. It is a lot harder to get someone to agree to take your cat. If there is a place, like the local animal shelter that says something like (I'm quoting a local animal shelter here):

We are an open-admission animal shelter and will accept any pet from a [County Name] County resident.

You can take them there. They have a policy of accepting animals like yours. They may or may not put them down or find a good gnome for them.

I ended up keeping one of the cats and surrendering the vomity one. I don't know what happened to him.
posted by tylerkaraszewski at 11:46 PM on January 15, 2014 [15 favorites]

I don't see how you can think of putting them to sleep as an option after keeping them for their whole lives, just because it's inconveniencing you now. From what you've said it doesn't seem like you've done much to try and even address the issues, over all these years, and now it's so bad that you want to put them to sleep. There are reasons cats throw up frequently or have problems using the litter box perfectly. These are often addressable problems, especially the latter. Have you even done any research on this? I mean beyond googling something. I wouldn't assume either that thyroid issues have to mean litter and vomit issues, have you actually connected them? Cats often throw up a whole lot if they are given dry food which they should not be eating. Have you tried feeding good quality canned food? Have you read any books on cat behaviorism and how to get your cats to use the litter box more properly? Don't assume just because your vet hasn't said anything to you that there is nothing you can do and no information out there. Same with your own doctor you have to do your own research and your own thinking. Perhaps try some of the above suggestions to remedy this situation for yourself and your cats' lives.

Also, if you do give them to a shelter please give them to a "no-kill" shelter. Then at least they won't be killed merely because they don't get adopted.
posted by Blitz at 11:51 PM on January 15, 2014 [73 favorites]

Can you enclose the litter box in some way, e.g., move it into a closet or have built a sort of "cat house" to enclose the box? This is a fancy version but there are simpler and cheaper solutions.

The spitting up is something lots of cats do. if you keep a mini wetwac handy you can get it up really quickly, like one or two minutes. It's even something a child could do as a chore (not a four year old, but a few years older.)

If this kind of approach doesn't seem to work, or you just don't have the patience, I would think a rescue place is the better choice, or else you're going to have to have them euthanized.
posted by La Cieca at 11:55 PM on January 15, 2014

My first thought was "new vet". That's a lot of vomiting; I don't know how a vet could consider this okay.

If you can get the vomitting under control so that the litterbox issues are the only problem, and the litterboxes are downstairs, I don't see why the cats can't come upstairs and be a part of your life where you can enjoy each others' company.

You don't mention if the thyroid problem is being treated. Is the cat overeating? Thyroid medication may stop it overeating which may in turn stop the throwing up. Hypoallergenic diet may help if it's food allergies causing it.

But yeah. New vet. Research on Google or Catster or similar. It all depends if you're willing to try.
posted by springbound at 11:59 PM on January 15, 2014 [9 favorites]

Of the two dogs I adopted before my children were born, one is still with me. He's getting near fourteen, he smells bad, and now that his kidney problems are under control so I don't have to clean up pee every day, I have to deal with his daily feces accidents. Plural.

I love him. I'm sure you love your cats, too. Here's the thing: it's still a pain in the ass, and really unpleasant at times. In those moments -- and there are many -- I deal with it in a way that, perhaps, you might be able to try.

I try to remember that someday I, too, will be old and gross, and I hope my kids will still want me around...and even if they don't, I hope they grow up to be empathetic and responsible to those they care about. My poor old stinky dog is my partner in teaching my children that sort of lesson; I signed up as his caretaker, and even when things are bad, my job is to be there for him anyway, and even if I complain, I do it in an affectionate way. Not only does it demonstrate to my children what being a responsible caretaker looks like, but it also reassures my children that I'll always be there for them, even if they're struggling with physical or mental illness.

I also remember that I have children that are healthy, and that I am fortunate every day that they're still healthy. If they had been born with/had developed physical or mental issues that made caring for them extremely difficult, I would still be there for them, and by comparison my dog's care requirements suddenly seem a lot easier to deal with. Those are the days I put my face right up against his grey, stinky muzzle and remember that he is a member of my family, and he's totally worth the effort.

These are perspective shifts rather than action plans, I realize, and in particular the second part might be hard to leverage for you. The first one, though: your children will go/are going to school hundreds of days per year to learn, but you teach them every day, too, and if the limited time spent with your cats (who, as you say, seem happy) is focused on taking care of their incontinence/gastrointestinal distress, it's still a small amount of time per day that makes up an important lesson for your kids, whether they realize it yet or not.
posted by davejay at 12:13 AM on January 16, 2014 [105 favorites]

I am going to voice a very, very unpopular opinion -

I LOVE cats (that's not the unpopular opinion). But I would not judge you for having your cats put to sleep in your situation and might well do the same (there it is). I guess that makes me "lower than dirt" to some people, but I've thought about this quite a bit and I'm comfortable with my admittedly utilitarian conclusion (I think keeping unadoptable animals alive for months and years in kennels, as happens in many no-kill shelters, to be vastly crueller than a quick and painless death... but that's sort of another topic, I guess).

Cats and dogs don't sit around thinking and planning for the future. They won't spend the last few moments before they die thinking about all the cat food and bird-chasing they won't get to experience. They can't and won't know that they are being put to sleep. If you find a vet who comes to your house, they might not even find the experience to be uncomfortable or scary in any way. They've had a nice cat life, they will have a quiet and painless cat death. There is no tragedy here.

Putting them to sleep would be a better option than a no-kill shelter, or any shelter, really - they will almost certainly be put to sleep in a normal shelter, but only after spending time in cages surrounded by unfamiliar sounds and smells. It will be scary and unpleasant for them. It would probably be scary and unpleasant for a longer amount of time in the no-kill shelter.

You are not obligated to spend large amounts of money and time to keep these animals alive unless you want to and you can afford it, and the situation as it stands seems pretty untenable.
posted by cilantro at 12:38 AM on January 16, 2014 [87 favorites]

Boy do I ever feel your pain. Let me tell you my story, and what we have chosen to do- maybe it will give you some ideas for solutions.

About nine years ago a very injured cat showed up on our doorstep with broken teeth and a severe breathing problem. She seemed to have birth defects as well as injuries from some kind of impact, like a car hitting her. We took her to the vet and found out that her diaphragm was torn and she needed some costly surgery. We decided to adopt her and give her a home, because a cat in that condition would not last long before being put down in a shelter. Well, more accurately, my wife decided to adopt her. I am not a cat or a pet person whatsoever, but it was important to my wife, so I agreed to it.

Over the last nine years we have paid for a few costly surgeries for this cat, and she is really getting on in age. She is about 15 now. Because of her diaphragm and intestinal issues, she has an extremely hard time using the litter box these days. About five years ago, she started pooping outside it from time to time. Then it became pooping on the carpet once a week, then twice a week, then every day (in addition to occasional vomiting).

She is deaf and has lost her sense of smell, so she will sometimes poop on the floor and then lay on top of it, smearing it, meaning that not only does the carpet have to be cleaned, so does the cat with a bath.

About four years ago I had had enough after a horrendous night where I stepped in poop in two different spots while getting up to go to the kitchen. I told my wife that the only way I could keep living with the cat was if we found a way to pen her up, so that's what we have done. We bought interlocking foam floor mats and a large, high-fence dog pen. We have a bedroom of our house where she lives, and about 75% of the bedroom is her space.

She gets to come out for "supervised release" every night for at least a few hours, so she can socialize and get attention. But then when it's bedtime for us, we put her back in her area and close her up. Cleaning up the foam matting is much easier than having to spray the carpet, and since she's getting very old and immobile, she doesn't really mind being in her small space all day (so long as she gets to come out).

We chose a bedroom that has a sunny window, so in her area, she gets some sun every morning. We also put blankets she likes in there for her, and we have her on medications and a prescribed diet for her health issues. Of course, her litter boxes (she gets two low-walled ones as an incentive to at least pee in the box) and her food and water go in her area with her.

So far, it works about as well as it can. She still poops on the floor every day, but at least it's on that mat. And at least if she vomits or gets messy and drags poop around or lays in it, she doesn't do it all over the apartment, just in her small cleanable/wipeable area. I no longer have to look down every time I walk everywhere, something that was about to drive me insane.

Could you maybe carve out a single room where you can pen them up, and put some easy-to-clean flooring in that room? Do they really need to have the run of an entire downstairs area, a third of the house as you say? What about just one room (so long as it is not too small)? Maybe you could even do what we did and buy a sizeable dog pen to use to wall off a large chunk of a room, if it's large enough. You could buy some interlocking matting to lay down, or lay down some laminate flooring in a room. Confining them to a small space and only allowing them out for "supervised release" each day seems like something that would give you a little more sanity, if their problems are as severe as you make them sound. At least you could reclaim part of your downstairs area as a poop-free zone.

I feel your pain. In addition to the many costs we've incurred to pay for this cat's surgeries, I now have had to pay for an extra bedroom that is almost entirely occupied by this cat for a few years now, and who knows how much longer this will last. I could spend a good $200-300 less on rent if I didn't have this situation. She is an utter chore of a pet... cleaning up after her is a burden, and she just keeps on chugging along, year after year (our vet is flabbergasted that she is still alive and always tells us she is on borrowed time).

But I knew this was going to be an expensive cat to own, and I made my bed, so I have to sleep in it. I would not encourage you to get rid of those cats. I can't get rid of mine, even though she drives me nuts, and even though my life will be easier and happier, and my wallet will be happier too once she is gone.

It wouldn't be right to put her down or send her to a shelter when she is not in pain. If she were in pain... ok, I'd consider it. But for now, our goal is to try to preserve our sanity by confining her, but by still doing what we can to make her comfortable and happy. Maybe you could think up a solution that would let you do the same.

And I would also take them to a new vet. If your cats are having as many litter box and vomiting issues as you say, that sounds beyond just typical "stinky old cat" behavior. Vomiting every day, for example, goes beyond "sensitive stomach."
posted by Old Man McKay at 12:49 AM on January 16, 2014 [22 favorites]

You've kept them largely isolated from your lives and your children's lives for more than a year?

This is tragic. Of course they're stressed and unhappy. Please take them back into your lives, poop and piddle and all, as exasperating as it is.

15 is not that old. The puking/pooping isn't because they're old. I had to put my elderkitty down this past summer, at the age of 18: he had no problems of this kind, but he did have cancer.

The puking problem might be caused by the food you're feeding: something more digestible might solve that issue. Wet food is much, much easier to digest -- have you tried the prescription food that the vet sells? There is a digestive formula.

Alternately, the cat who is pukey may be under stress, and might need more attention: one may be bullying the other (you're not around to mediate or to be top cat/mom, which you used to be) resulting in kitty ulcers. Or they may be gulping their food fast and puking it up again.

One or both doesn't like the litterbox or is being actively prevented from using it by the other. This may well be helped by adding another litterbox, possibly two more: usually, two cats = 2 litterboxes, and sometimes even 3. They may be a little achy in the joints or have sensitivity to the litter; the first makes climbing into boxes painful, so they avoid it, and the second means that litter =bad so they pee somewhere else. Buy a couple more boxes of different sizes and design (bigger ones? uncovered if the current one is covered?) and put them where they're peeing or pooping now.

Yes, the pooping out of the box thing might be deliberate: they're marking their territory and saying it with poop. Look up "middening" and see what you can find. Jackson Galaxy might help, too.

There are cat rescues in the Seattle such as homeward pet or Meow cat rescue or or these guys or these guys and many, many more.

They may be able to make helpful suggestions, too.
posted by jrochest at 12:53 AM on January 16, 2014 [20 favorites]

One thing you may not be considering is that the little arrangement you've worked out, with the new kids fully occupying your attention and the cats confined to their own little part of the house, may be the very reason why they are puking and pooping in inappropriate places. Cats are far, far more emotional (and needy) then they are generally given credit for. You were basically their parents for years, and now suddenly they've been kind of banished to some part of the house where nobody ever goes, and you're spending all your time doting on these new babies. That's going to be traumatic as all freaking get out, for anybody. No wonder they are so happy for some lap time, when you go down there!

I am resisting the urge to judge. Before I became a crazy cat lady, I bought the line about cats being little sociopaths who don't really care about people, and I never understood why some people got so emotional about cats. But now I've lived with a cat for 10 years or so (and he was apparently about 8 when he came to stay with us!) and I would take a bullet for that little bastard. He is not as smart as some folks, and sometimes his ways are strange to me, but he is a little guy, with a beating heart and a tiny little brain full of opinions.

You put a cat down because it is sick and suffering, and letting it live would be more cruel than letting it die. You don't put a cat down because its existence has become inconvenient. 15 is not that old, and your cats could have years of life left. It is not impossible that your kids could grow to love these cats, if they can get to know them. Watch a season or two of My Cat From Hell, read up on cat psychology, and do whatever else you can to be the parent your freaking cats deserve.

sorry. Not judging. Ahem.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 12:54 AM on January 16, 2014 [50 favorites]

What are the cats eating now, and what were the different foods you tried in the past? Dry, wet? Supermarket, prescription, carnivore-specific? Brand names would be helpful.

Have you tried different types of litter? Which types?

How much attention are the cats getting apart from you cleaning up? Here's the thing:
"We used to let them upstairs [...].
"About 4 years ago we had our first kid. For the first year we would take him downstairs to play, always checking the floor beforehand for barf, and cleaning up as needed before letting him play. Around that time the barfing started to increase to several times a week."

The arrival of your first child coincided with you putting attention towards the child (normal) and essentially relegating your cats to a life alone downstairs, and then, not at all mysteriously for this cat owner, barfy-cat increased his barf frequency. As your avoidance of your cats increased, the other cat started acting out by peeing and pooing everywhere. Your avoidance of them increased even more.

Have you tried paying more attention to your cats? Barring health problems since they clearly don't have any apart from the thyroid issue, your cats feel abandoned. The only way they can get you to spend time with them is when you're cleaning up their messes. So they create messes. Emphasis mine:
Both cats seem to be relatively happy, but it's hard to tell, because at this point we just don't go into the downstairs of our house more often than is needed to do laundry and clean up whatever messes we see on the floor or the litter box.

On preview, as you can see, Old Man McKay makes a point to carve out daily affection time for his cat: "She gets to come out for "supervised release" every night for at least a few hours, so she can socialize and get attention.

At least a few hours, daily. How much time are your cats getting with you? Have you tried increasing affection (a few hours daily is a very good number) and seeing how/if it improves their litterbox use?
posted by fraula at 12:54 AM on January 16, 2014 [9 favorites]

Good lord, people, you have an actual human being here that is suffering, not just a pair of cats. Can you please have some sympathy?

You can try again to deal with the issues with a new vet. And if it doesn't work, you can take them to a shelter that will take them, or have them put down. You don't need to feel guilty about it, but you probably will, and that's okay. Your kids come first.
posted by empath at 12:56 AM on January 16, 2014 [34 favorites]

I have to say I agree with one thing fraula is saying. Part of why my old cat seems to do as well as she does is because she gets brought out to be around us and be sociable every night. We don't sit and pet her for three hours or something, but we do let her sleep on a blanket on the bed, and sit next to us, and be around us. She needs to feel sociable.

Of course some cats don't give a crap about that at all and just see their humans as food dispensers and door openers, but others are massively needy and react horribly if they feel ostracized. Peeing and pooping everywhere really are textbook "I feel neglected and I don't care anymore" behaviors, so I would definitely think about whether that is part of what is causing your one cat's problems.

Again just want to emphasize that I feel your pain.
posted by Old Man McKay at 1:10 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Yup, here comes the unpopular opinion again.
I love cats. I've just had to have a cat euthanised because he was suffering and more suffering would have been in his future if we hadn't. He was my pal for all of 16 years. That said:

You don't seem to be doing these cats any favours by keeping them around. Having them euthanised is not so horrible. They will not know what's happening; it's just another vet visit and another injection.
I do think that from a medical point of view, their problems may very well be entirely fixable, but you don't seem up to getting onto that.

Please don't put them on Craigslist. No one who wants a pet to keep as a pet will want them. I shudder to think of what may happen to them.

Please don't take them to a shelter, for similar reasons. They will remain locked up there for the rest of their lives, and possibly still be euthanised. Rehoming 15-year old cats is pretty much impossible.

I don't realistically expect you to be able to spend a few hours every day on your cats, in your current situation.

In any case, they're not living a good kitty life. Putting them down may not be necessary, but in your case, I can see why it may be the best option. And the cats won't know. I promise.
Being euthanised is not the worst thing that can happen to an animal, at all. And I say that as someone who has three cats and loves them.
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:15 AM on January 16, 2014 [14 favorites]

A lot of these issues might also be stress-related. I know that my cat throws up when she's stressed (if I'm suddenly out of the house for longer than I usually am, for example), and going outside the litter box is a classic sign that a cat is freaking out emotionally/mentally.

The recommended number of litter boxes is usually one per cat, plus one extra, so if you don't already have three litter boxes you might try adding another couple. Also, try using lids on the boxes, just in case one or both of the cats feels vulnerable in the box and doesn't want the other one watching. Those can be kind of expensive, so I just use those big plastic storage bins (with a hole cut in the side as a door).

If you can't bring them both upstairs at once, maybe try bringing at least one of them upstairs to spend time with everyone at least once a day. That they are eager to cuddle with you when you do see them makes me think they're lonely. Even if you're feeling hassled, you're their caretaker, and this is their family, they almost definitely love and need time with you.

If you don't want the cats lying on the couch, etc, in my experience they love those polar fleece throws/blankets. Towels work in a pinch (as does newspaper or little boxes they can barely squeeze into, since they're cats and therefore weird).

The cat who vomits a lot might not have so much trouble if she drinks more water -- my cat doesn't like it out of a dish, but loves to drink water from a little glass. I don't get it, but she drinks more water now that I give her her own glass of it than she ever has, and she hasn't coughed up a single hairball since. Cat grass (they sell it in little "planters" at all the big pet stores and a lot of grocery stores, but you can also get seed packets) is also very good for digestion.

In terms of toys that a cat can play with on her own, my cat loves Fling-ama-String. Can the cats access and sit at the windows easily? There are detachable cat seats that you can use if the sills aren't deep enough for them to sit comfortably. You might also want to put bird feeders outside the windows if there isn't a lot happening out there for them to watch otherwise.

Also, are there good hiding places where one of the cats can get away from the other? Stressed cats can end up lashing out at each other, and that'll just exacerbate the problems. None of the cats I've had have ever liked anything having to do with a cat condo, but those expandable tunnels they have in all the big box pet stores (for about $10 or $15) go over a little better.

For what it's worth, I think you do need to continue working on this rather than giving the cats away or putting them down. Personally, I think you have an obligation to the cats. But I also think it's important that your kids see that you're able and willing to take care of the cats even when it's not fun or easy, because it's important for kids to see you practicing unconditional love. Not just because you'll reap the benefits for that when you're old and need their help, but also (primarily) because it'll probably do a lot to make them feel more secure and confident *now,* knowing that people in your family get taken care of and loved no matter what.
posted by rue72 at 1:19 AM on January 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

[Some comments deleted. Offer helpful, productive advice or pass this by. The OP has asked for suggestions that are alternatives to putting the cats down; don't just drop in to say "don't put the cats down!" or to scold. ]
posted by taz (staff) at 1:33 AM on January 16, 2014 [9 favorites]

On second thought, it's probably worth it to try these things out for a month:

- different food
- an extra litter box
- having the cats come up into the house for a few hours each day
- a Feliway diffuser

Combined, these changes are not going to break the bank and may very well turn things around. Give them a month and see what happens.
It can't really be worse than the current situation. Cover furniture with blankets if need be. It's just a month.

Fifteen year old cats do not by definition puke and poop everywhere. Mine did not have these problems at 17.

Good luck!
posted by Too-Ticky at 1:52 AM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

I have a cat who is stupidly barfy if he doesn't get to eat human quality fresh meat (first tried on advice of vet for eczema). Secondly, litter tray stuff. Because Dr Freeman is prone to forgetting he should squat, I don't use regular litter trays, but deep plastic boxes. The litter is wheat based, which doesn't seem to stick to his jellybeans (toes) so much.oh and you could rest the litter boxes on, or place around them mats that are very tactile. - not the word I'm looking for, something quite fibrous, or with rubber bits poking up so the poo is restricted to that area. And maybe a litter tray outside, so they have clean toes before coming in.

Next thing, if its an option, dependant on your climate and living arrangements, I would (as I have done for my feline overload) arrange a cat run - cat max in Australia built out first, but since then, I've used bird netting (around $1 a metre) and give him as much outside time as possible (preferably through a secure cat flap - but Gordon is vehemently opposed to how they donk him on the head), because there's no need to de-barf the great outdoors and it'll be an area they can avoid your kids or visitors if they want. My preference in flooring is for tiles, for easy cleanup, but if your kitties have a regular area they hang out and barf in, then maybe you can cover up vulnerable carpet with a cheap easy o clean rug, or cut Lino from your hardware store.

I want to say, I feel your pain. In the last years of my marriage, we had three cats - the third who spontaneously adopted us stressing out the second so much they he painted the inside of the house with urine. I bought clear vinyl, and tacked it to the second shelf from bottom on bookcases to protect bottom shelf from random sprays which mortified my daughter. The situation was solved by separating cats 2 & 3 when the marriage ended.
posted by b33j at 2:27 AM on January 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

Do you know an older neighbor kid who likes pets? Pay him to come over and hang out with the cats for an hour a few times a week, play with them and maybe brush them. (I wouldn't task him with cleaning up messes unless he volunteers, and if he does, pay him double.) It sounds like the cats are very lonely, and cats often communicate stress through bodily effluvia.

Do what you can to enrich the cats' environment, too: cat trees or shelves to climb, tunnels, assorted comfy sleeping spots, a bird feeder outside the window.

I think it is going to be extremely hard to find a new home for two elderly cats with litter box problems. The only way I'd advise it is if you could find an arrangement with a no-kill shelter who lets you keep the cats as "fosters" (freeing up shelter space and minimizing the cats' stress) while they screen potential adopters. Not all shelters will do this, but it's worth looking into. Do not surrender them anywhere, and don't use Craigslist. And don't even consider this option until you've made a sustained effort to relieve the cats' stress: even if it works and you can't keep it up, a pair of cats who just need a little extra love is more appealing than a pair of cats who mysteriously spew shit.
posted by Metroid Baby at 4:32 AM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Nthing the comments saying that your cats are extremely stressed out because you have completely isolated them from your lives. You say we no longer want to spend any time with them - trust me, they are picking up on this sentiment.

Please try to improve their stress by playing with them and letting them hang out in the rest of the house, at least for a month or two. It will be a challenge at first and will require a lot of patience...but the results are likely to be worth it.

I think you are unlikely to be able to rehome them successfully at this time.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 4:38 AM on January 16, 2014 [9 favorites]

If they are 15, this problem is time-limited by definition. If you aren't ready to put them down and they aren't in pain, can you just wait this out? It's unlikely they'll make it to 20. I would also say they might need some more socialization (without kids) hard as that can be with your schedule and sleep deprivation. Do they ever get to sit and be petted?

There are no elderly cat homes, and the stress would be crueler than putting them down.
posted by emjaybee at 4:49 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Please don't give them away. Nthing the comments that the cats seem to be completely stressed out. You should really have 1 litter box per cat. When I had two cats we had three litter boxes. And how about some Feliway to calm them as you socialize with them more?

But I came in to specifically recommend a food for the cat that is puking.

I have a long haired cat that has spent the last 12 years puking all over my house. Multiple vets said he was in good health and we tried various allergy specific diets. We had him shaved as vets though hairballs were contributing to the problem.

He recently fell ill and upon a vets recommendation we switched him to a cheap crappy wet food to entice his appetite. Not only is he better but he loves the wet food and doesn't puke anymore. Dry food in general was making him vomit!

The food is Friskies Special Diet with Ocean Whitefish. It's not a high quality food but he loves it so we've kept him on it. We also tried the Special Diet with Turkey and that worked as well.
posted by pghjezebel at 5:30 AM on January 16, 2014

First, strongly consider that part of this behavior is in response to lack of attention. Cats are social creatures and they want to see you--perhaps an hour or two of supervised time with them, like hanging out upstairs in an enclosed area--would do a lot for their happiness.

Bathroom issues
Different litter: Try Dr. Elsey's Cat Attract AND the Precious Cat Litter Attractant. Double whammy. Not even kidding, cats love this stuff.

Box: Grab a wide-bottom 18+ gallon storage tub (bigger is better). Cut an opening (like a big 'U') about 4-inches from the bottom. Low enough the cats can get in, high enough they're not kicking litter out of it. Initially leave the box uncovered since some cats don't like a cover.

Barf issues
What kinds of different food have you tried? Just dry? Any wet options? Did you go with just Science Diet, or did you check out your local frou-frou pet store and find some high-quality, grain free options? Many kitties do not react well to the normal stuff you find in PetCo. Try giving them high-quality, grain-free, high-protein food options, both wet and dry. Brands like Taste of the Wild, Merrick, Tiki Cat, etc. Look for Limited Ingredient Diet options (often called LID on the can).

If you've given all this a shot--extra attention plus different litter plus a bigger box plus super-high-quality food (give each type of food at least a few days to a week), then go back to looking to rehome them.

If you go with surrendering them to a county shelter you may as well put them down. 15-year-old cats with barfing and thyroid issues will not be considered adoptable and I don't know of any shelter that isn't grossly overpopulated. Your cats would prefer to be put down by you than spend days or weeks stressed out in a cage eating glop before a bunch of strangers euthanize them.
posted by schroedinger at 5:41 AM on January 16, 2014 [6 favorites]

Have you had them checked for UTIs? My cat vomits and pees outside the box when he has one. I'd also suggest brushing them as some of the vomiting could be from hair balls.
posted by SpaceWarp13 at 5:57 AM on January 16, 2014

I came in to suggest using a large tupperware bin (like the one schroedinger suggested) for a littler box, and to have more than one. High sides is key I think. I also had to switch my cat to one specific brand of wet cat food in one specific flavour (Friskies Chicken and Cheese) or else my kitty would barf. She'd barf up all the expensive kinds of dry food, but the chicken and cheese friskies was good. I'm sure you have tried all kinds of foods to try to solve this, but I just want to make sure you haven't ruled out the cheap foods as a possible solution.

I also want to say I am sorry. I understand why people get all up in arms over pets not being valued - there are a lot of animals out there being ditched by their owners for no good reason - but seriously, sometimes the humans have to trump. Of course you don't want your children living and playing in a home that is frequently splattered with cat vomit and cat feces. I had to rehome my kitty because I was moving in with my boyfriend who was severely allergic to cats, and I was put through the rings much as you are being now. People condemning me for rehoming her, how I should be considering the needs of my kitty that I had for six years. Even stuff like "You better hope this MAN you're choosing over you pet is worth it, or this is going to be the biggest regret of your life" messages from people on kijiji where I was looking for a new home for her. Here I was, already very upset that I had to rehome her, and people were making it much much worse and making me feel like a horrible person for choosing the man that I loved over my cat. So I really do get it. Sometimes you are stuck with having to choose what is best for the HUMANS and all people hear is how you're mistreating the pet. I can tell from your question that you are sad over this and that you want to find a solution that is also good for the cats. I don't think you are being cruel or callous. I'm sorry you are going through this, and I am very sorry that people are making it harder than it already is.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 5:58 AM on January 16, 2014 [13 favorites]

Do you know what time of day your cat is vomiting? Is it just after he/she eats? My cat eats too fast and then sometimes throws up as a result. I can't give her wet food because this would happen multiple times per week. Instead, I just give her dry food, which she likes a little less, and it only happens occasionally.
posted by jilloftrades at 6:14 AM on January 16, 2014

Cilantro is very right. I had a very beloved cat that I left at home when I went to college. She was old and getting a little senile, and peeing in the house, but not actively sick. My family kept nagging me to make a decision, and eventually... they made it for me.

I wish I had made the decision. In retrospect, it would have been much more humane to put her down even if she MIGHT have had a few more years left in her, than to make her keep living with people who basically resented her now. Really, I feel guilty that it was selfish to want her to keep living - not in outright neglectful conditions, but in "just OK' conditions - just because I didn't want a comfortable end to her life before it was "time". Cats have no concept of their death or having "more time".

I don't think you're being cruel or "throwing them away" because they're inconvenient now. There's a big difference between getting rid of a young, healthy pet on a whim and accepting that your cats are old and will keep getting more feeble and at some point it's less kind to wait until they literally can't live any longer.
posted by nakedmolerats at 6:14 AM on January 16, 2014 [6 favorites]

Your cats sound lonely to me.

Two things occur to me:

One, I like the idea of paying a "cat friend" from the neighborhood to visit and play with them - if you have a posh pet supplies place nearby you could advertise there if you don't know anyone. I bet you could find a vet med student, for instance.

Two: Is there a way to spend more time downstairs? (It sounds like downstairs isn't a basement.) Could one of you do a quick clean-up, for instance, and then everybody watches cartoons or a movie together on a sofa? This would give the cats some people-time but would minimize the "roaming children might get into something if you didn't get it all cleaned up".

Another thing, just in case you haven't tried it: I have a cat who used to up a lot, but I've reduced the throwing up to perhaps once a month by feeding multiple quite small meals and by reducing total food. We have breakfast (3 T grain-free dry food); dinner (2 T food) and before-bed snack (1 T) and this seems to be plenty for her.

Also, the more bored she is the faster she eats and the more excited she gets about her food, hence more throwing up. I've found that daily active play (not even a lot, just a few minutes, and she's a young cat) has helped a lot.
posted by Frowner at 6:38 AM on January 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

If you're really committed to trying to keep the cats, I think you're going to have to commit to a period of frustrating trial and error. Multiple litter boxes, cat attract litter, and more attention could help with the litter box problems. For barfy cat, people have suggested very expensive foods, sensitive stomach foods, prescription foods, and cheap foods. As you can see, different things work for different cats. I don't think anyone is going to be able to give you The Right Food or The Litterbox Solution, but you've gotten a lot of good suggestions.

I am more sympathetic to you now than I would've been six months ago. I helped a friend rescue a cat who developed the most appalling, eye-watering runny poops that you could smell through a closed door and down the stairs. And she never used the litter box. It took six trips to a (probably incompetent) vet to diagnose her with a a bowel intussusception. She had surgery and some other treatments and now she's the Best Cat. (I'm not suggesting your cat has this condition b/c kitty was also very sick.) But the pre-diagnosis period was very difficult, and I honestly started to think she might need to be put to sleep. That cat, unlike yours, was sick, but the poops were affecting my friend's life in a big way.

That being said, you have an obligation to try suggestions made here that you haven't tried yet. If you get to the point where you genuinely feel that you have done all you can and can't continue to keep these cats, I'm with cilantro. Put them to sleep, in your home if possible. Surrendering pets with problems to a kill shelter (which you haven't suggested) is cruel and cowardly. In most cases, it's delaying the inevitable euthanasia so the owner can avoid having to do it himself. And as much as I support no-kill shelters, I do not think that would be a good option for elderly cats with litterbox problems. They will likely spend their remaining years in cages. Some people think those years in cages are preferable to euthanasia, but I would personally put my very beloved cat to sleep before doing that to her.

Finally, in a few years when your kids want a kitten or a puppy, I hope you will remember this. While I am sympathetic to the situation you're in, this is what sometimes happens to those kittens and puppies 10 years down the road.
posted by Mavri at 6:46 AM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

First of all, I'm sorry you're having to deal with this. It's a tough situation and you have my sympathies.

I went through some similar problems with my own cat, who's now 21. Here's what I would do.

-- Feed the cats twice a day, at the same time every day. I would recommend wet food, but do whatever works for you and your cats.

-- At the same time as you're feeding them, scoop the litter box twice a day. Change it completely at your discretion, but probably more frequently than you are now.

-- Spend a significant time with the cats downstairs every day. Use this as a teaching opportunity for your older kid -- This is how we gently take care of animals, this is how we use quiet voices and pet them very softly because they're old -- or use its as scheduled time you or your spouse get to yourselves to read a book or watch a TV show or just bliss out petting fuzzy kitties and letting your mind wander.

That's it. Keep their litter box very clean and fresh, keep their food schedule regular, give them lots of high-quality lap time. The litter box part is the most important, but the other stuff helps, too.

Cats like clean places to poop, affection, and routine.

Good luck, and do whatever you feel is best. In the end, you're the one who actually has to live in your house and deal with keeping it clean.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 6:52 AM on January 16, 2014

I am in a lousy situation with two aging cats and a small child very devoted to the aging cats. I have some mobility/pain issues and any litterbox miss or other cat-related hassle is very stressful, and hauling big bags of food and litter is problematic, and it is just more work than I can deal with happily.

But the kid is very attached to the cats. One of them is referred to as "fur mummy" because she comes running if my daughter is crying, and this cat also curls up next to her at night...

The best I can do for now is to keep them outside as much as I can encourage them to go out. Fortunately I live in a rural area. I know letting cats outdoors is unpopular in many places, for many reasons. But, if yours is not one of them, consider shooing them out the door as weather permits. A cat door is a nice thing to have.
posted by kmennie at 7:05 AM on January 16, 2014

I agree that stress and loneliness are likely a big part of this. We recently moved from Location A to nearby Location B, and we had to leave the cats at A for a few weeks while some things got sorted at B. We checked on them every day or every other day, and they had fresh food/water/litterboxes, but they were very obviously discontent and there was puking and pooping. Since we brought them to Location B, all of that stopped. It's a much smaller space so they are always with a human in the room if we're home.

I really encourage you to spend more time with them and I'm betting this will improve quite a bit.

I don't think you're a monster for considering euthanasia; this can be very frustrating. We had a dog with similar problems and I sometimes thought about giving her to another home. She did end up having a terminal condition and we had to put her down. I thought I'd feel a little relieved that I didn't have to deal with the daily pee/poop cleanup, but I was distraught for months. My husband was the one who took her to the vet, and he still can barely speak of it over a year later. So don't overestimate the perceived relief you think you might feel once you're "rid of the problem." I don't miss the poop but I sure miss her, and if cleaning it up was what I had to endure to have her around, I'd do it.
posted by desjardins at 7:09 AM on January 16, 2014 [4 favorites]

My vet told me about The Indoor Pet Project from Ohio State University. It has a problem-solving section and is meant to help in just such situations. I don't know if it will be useful for you or not, but my vet said that she saw some amazing changes in some of the problem situations she had seen in her practice.
posted by biggreenplant at 7:11 AM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

My bundle of kitty love and purrs is 16 now (I think - she was found under the house as a young kitty) and goes through occasional yacking spells. What I've found to get it under control was this:

Freshpet cat food, the kind that goes in the fridge. Yes, it's more expensive, but a lot less hassle than cleaning up constant yack.

Add to it the FortiFlora cat probiotics and feed her twice a day (or more when she wakes me up at 3 am to alert me there is no food on the plate and will surely starve)

And let her roam around the house with a 3 year old and a 13 month old. If she yacks, we clean it up. She acts like a mommy kitty and gets fretful if she can hear but not see the kids sometimes. I think your cats might want to come up and say hello and they're freaking out.
posted by skittlekicks at 7:12 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

A little tip that worked well for us with a chronically vomiting cat was to feed her dry food on a plate instead of in a bowl. It seemed to help her not wolf her food. Made a huge difference.

We've had many cats over the years and have had a couple that needed to be isolated when they got older, and one that never was effectively litter trained (I think separated from mom too young). It has worked well for us to get a cat cage like this (not recommending this seller, just grabbed the link for the image). The cage can be in a living area so they're near people, and have daily time outside it. What worked well for us was to have it in our bedroom, and have bedtime and morning cuddle-time. You can make it both cozy and interesting for your cats. Especially if they're older and beginning to slow down, they might do very well having a cozy place to sleep near where the people are. The cats we've done this with have not seemed unhappy at all.

A friend with an aging cat did a lower-cost option by building her own multi-level cage out of those wire cube shelves and zip-ties. Though looking at that price I think it may have been cheaper for her because she already had the shelving around.

Good luck. I know that dealing with animal stress has been harder for me since we had kids, because my patience and energy is being called on so heavily all the time.
posted by not that girl at 7:26 AM on January 16, 2014

One more thing I remembered: if your cats eat dry kibble, consider getting them a feeding toy. These serve a dual purpose: they entertain your cats, and they slow down their eating a bit, which can help with digestion.
posted by Metroid Baby at 7:31 AM on January 16, 2014

I would put a lot of money on this being your cats responding to lack of attention, since you said it picked up when you had your first child -- and no matter how often you went downstairs with the baby, you gave the cats less attention. (Of course you did! You had a baby!) And then as they acted up, you visited less, causing a vicious circle.

If you have a neighbourhood kid, a friend, or even if you can hire a friendly petsitter to come by and give them attention, and if you can try to go and visit them a lot more, I think it would probably really help.

Then you need to give a bunch of the solutions here a try. Feliway, more/better/different litter boxes, different kinds of litter (you can try sawdust in one, cat attract in a different, etc), change of food, going down to give them measured sizes of meals 2 or 3 times a day instead of free feeding, raising the food dishes, switching from dry to wet, and so on.

If the cats go upstairs, is there a similar problem with them peeing etc everywhere? You might try letting them upstairs for supervised time. Anything that has them spending more (much, much more) time with people.
posted by jeather at 7:36 AM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

Watching Jackson Galaxy's "My Cat From Hell" tv show gives a LOT of helpful tips on dealing with impossible cats. (It's on Netflix and Animal Planet.) It's really helped me see the world through a cat's eyes.

He has a good suggestion of cutting a litter box so that it is a low step to get in. A lot of times cats poop on the outside because their arthritis gets bad and they physically can't get into the litter box. Also if they're in pain, they associate the litter box with pain (hence poop a few feet away). So give treats and stuff to help re-associate their litter box with happy fun times.

Anyways watch the show. You've described a lot of behavioral problems that CAN get solved.

Try another vet. Barfing each day isn't normal. Feed the cat slower, more often? My younger cat barfs if he goes for too long without eating and then eats too much because he's starving.

Also if your kid is 4 you can start giving him/her the responsibility of helping out with the cats. Feeding the cats for example. Playing with the cats a little each day. (Feather on a string! Genius.) Bring the cats back into the family a little, it will help your kids too.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 8:12 AM on January 16, 2014 [5 favorites]

If you are indeed in Seattle, I just left and cannot recommend my old vet highly enough - Urban Animal in Capitol Hill. The vet who runs the practice is extremely thorough, compassionate and sensible. Maybe she can help you figure out a solution.
posted by lunasol at 8:18 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Have you tried giving the pukey cat half a pepcid a day? You want a plain, 10mg type, cut in half. That made a major difference when my cat was going through a pukey phase. You can also try elevating the food dish.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:23 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

MEOW Rescue in Kirkland is excellent. They have people there who are amazing experts on cats. Call or email them and describe the problems you are having. They will be able to suggest things to try. If you have tried everything they suggest, then you know you have really tried everything.

Keep in mind that if you cannot cope with these problems, it is unlikely anyone else will actively want to take them on.
posted by AllieTessKipp at 8:27 AM on January 16, 2014

Rereading through the question, I also really, really think you need to increase the number of litter boxes. It should be the number of cats, plus one, in different areas in their living space. Since you're not using the downstairs, there's really no reason not to give it a shake. Go for the big tupperware bins suggested upthread--that's helped most of my cat's aim problems and he no longer tracks poop around. I never had luck with the cat attract litter additive (it actually made my cat avoid the box), so for the time being, I'd just increase the number of boxes.

Good luck. I honestly don't think this is a euthanasia situation yet--there's so much you've yet to try to sort this out. Give it a month, be patient with yourself and your cats. It can't get much worse than it is so it's worth a shot, right?
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:31 AM on January 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

I have two elderly pukey pisser cats myself.

We cut down substantially on the puking by not feeding fish-flavored cat food -- that seemed to come right back up. We also give them lactulose (from the vet -- basically syrup), which moves their elderly bowels along a bit faster. Their colons can't move fast enough for all the food they want to eat, which is why they were puking -- they were blocked. Much better now.

The peeing on furniture and rugs has slowed down, but we get through a lot of puppy pads from the dollar store. Put the food bowls where the pee has been -- that seems to deter them from going on the same spot.

And definitely do try to make time every day to visit them, play with them, and snuggle a bit. They are alone down there for most of the day, it sounds like. Can you leave on a radio or TV for them so at least they feel there's human contact?
posted by vickyverky at 8:34 AM on January 16, 2014

And yes, on the litter boxes: We have four, for three cats, and the pukey pissers have exclusive access to two of them, with different litters in them.

Dr. Elsey's Cat Attract really does work, although you'll have to experiment to see what your cat prefers. Little Pisspot (not his real name, although I'm thinking of changing it) will use that box almost exclusively.
posted by vickyverky at 8:36 AM on January 16, 2014

how to get the cats to not drag poop all over the house

One of our two (young, healthy) cats thinks that pulling a poop out of the litterbox to play with is a really fun game. I even posted a question about it - lots of great advice, like trying different types of litter or using a top-entry box. We ended up figuring out that if we use a very small amount of litter in the box, we have no problems - more than 2 inches or so of litter and poop becomes a toy again.

You have some difficult issues, but stopping the cats from removing poop from the box is actually one of the easier ones to solve.
posted by insectosaurus at 8:50 AM on January 16, 2014

i haven't read the other responses, but you are likely CAUSING this situation. you say it got worse when the kids came? it's because the kids came. the kitties are now not getting all the attention they used to. there's this new unfamiliar creature and it's stressful. they're now banished to the basement and never see you and they don't know why.

are you cleaning the litterbox daily? do you have more than one litterbox? are you making sure they have enough fresh water and food? are you playing with them? or are you just leaving them in the basement to be alone and sad and stressed?

you need to re-engage with your cats--with your kids. they can come down and play with the cats or just pet them or just be in the same room with them while you clean up the piles (really?) of poop and vomit.
posted by misanthropicsarah at 9:15 AM on January 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

Oh yeah, and the secret to cutting a hole in one of those plastic storage bins is heating the blade of the knife over a flame (I use my stovetop) before each cut.

On reading St. Peepsburg's answer, if you think arthritis might be an issue 4'' might be too high a hole. Perhaps 2-3''.
posted by schroedinger at 9:18 AM on January 16, 2014 [1 favorite]

Anonymized post for the OP. Here is a follow-up note from them
Thank you for the suggestions, many of them we have tried but we will implement the others as much as we can and hopefully get some positive results.
posted by jessamyn at 10:39 AM on January 16, 2014

OP, can you please get the mods to let us know where you live? At least a city, state would be great. I'm in FL and I have A sister out in the NW, and either of us would gladly, I know, help the OP with these cats!

OP, yes, people come first, but also please do not just try to live your lives around the cats or give up entirely rather than working on these issues!

1. Feed the cats wet food only. Mine like Fancy Feast. It is like cat crack, and Bonus! cheaper than Science Diet dry food or whatever the vets are schilling these days. Easier to keep down, too.
2. Comb the cats, and also buy the caramel-like laxative stuff that helps keep them from having hair balls. It's cheap! You can get it at Walmart, even.
3. Let the cats go upstairs and downstairs at will! They may choose not to spend much time upstairs, but they will be less stressed out if it is their choice. They will avoid the kiddos if they are about to be sick. Also, you will hear/see when cat is about to be sick and it may help you figure out why it is happening!
4. Additional litter box upstairs. Again, you will be more likely to see what cat is doing when there's poop outside the box and figure out how to fix the problem, rather than the symptom.

If those 4 things don't clear up 75% of the trouble, I will be surprised. If they don't, at least you will have TRIED, rather than just giving up on your cats. If you then have to give them up, you can feel less guilty knowing you tried to make it work.
posted by misha at 11:54 AM on January 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

I just wanted to bop by and say that it's not like craigslist is a murder train for your cats, I mean.. be aware that there's risks, but one of my cats I got off craigslist and I love him like he's a Egyptian prince and haven't murdered him at all. So I mean, use judgement, maybe talk to people a bit first and meet them, but not everyone who is willing to take your cats wants them for horrible reasons.
posted by euphoria066 at 11:58 AM on January 16, 2014 [3 favorites]

I wanted to add my voice to the "unpopular" chorus.

Having urine, feces and vomit all over your house (or at least much of your house) when you have an infant/toddler is more than "inconvenient" as some people above describe it. And you are not unreasonable for not wanting to live that way.

We had a handicapped incontinent dog, a crawling infant, and a small bungalow where, despite our best efforts, the only (mostly) poo free (if you don't count what residue could be tracked in on shoes) zone was a 8x10 bit of the living room. It's really hard to find and clean everything, everyday, especially if the pooper drags or tracks (wheelchair wheels) it all over. Anyway, it sucked. A lot. I mean we were used to the poop, after all we'd been living with it for FIVE years, but the baby+poop combo was REALLY difficult. The baby couldn't go anywhere and he wanted to go everywhere.

Thank god, we were able to put him to sleep in December. It was a difficult decision (for my husband), and he was able to do it only because the Poop Machine was on his way out already, fading and a shadow of his former self (though with no distinct medical problem). But honestly it was an EASY decision for me. Sad. But, easy. He'd had a good life, he'd been supported in an amazing way (five years of being manually expressed twice a day, his nightly mess cleaned up, his DAILY mess cleaned up, and loved the whole time) but he was a serious negative effect on our entire family life, and he wasn't that happy himself.

And I can tell you, something changed in our house. We no longer had to fight this constant battle with hygine, we no longer were faced with the smell of shit multiple times a day, we could leave our bedroom door open at night for the first time in five years, we no longer feared coming home from work to see if there was shit tracked all over the house, or worse poop vomit (shiver...), we could walk BAREFOOT without fear in our house, and most wonderfully, most importantly, our baby could actually live in the house. We could all be in the kitchen during dinner time, he can play on the floor anywhere, crawl between the dining room chair legs, pull books off the bookcase, he can chase the other dog/cats, or follow us from the bedroom to the kitchen, he can practice his crawling, explore his world and develop in a reasonable space. And our house feels warmer, safer, more relaxed.

So yeah, do what you can to help the cats, but if that doesn't work, do what you need to do to take care of your life too. You could see if someone wants to adopt them with known issues, but if that doesn't work, I think euthanasia is a viable option. You've given those guys a good run, much better than many cats with no or bad owners ever get.

Contrary to what some folks seem to think, human quality of life counts for something too!
posted by pennypiper at 11:58 AM on January 16, 2014 [9 favorites]

I am not a veterinarian, but I am in vet school. Hyperthyroidism is common in older cats and can cause the vomiting you have described, as well as weight loss, diarrhea, and a poor hair coat--all of which may be contributing to the "grossness" you've described. Hyperthyroidism can be managed in several ways, including anti-thyroid drugs which are given daily, or with a specially formulated low-iodine cat food. These methods (used separately, not together) can effectively manage hyperthyroidism, reverse many of the symptoms, and help your kitty live a longer, more comfortable life. (MeMail me and I can link you to more information.)

Vomiting and inappropriate urination (urinating outside of the litter box) are one of the signs cats give us when they are feeling sick, and it sounds like one or both of your cats has been feeling under the weather for quite some time. I'm not telling you this to make you feel bad, but so you keep this in mind should you continue to own cats in the future.
posted by gumtree at 12:27 PM on January 16, 2014 [6 favorites]

You really need to take your cats to another vet, and explain to them how you and your cats are living. What is being done to manage the cat's thyroid issue? Anything?

Pets can be experts at hiding illness or pain, especially when starved for attention.
posted by inertia at 12:30 PM on January 16, 2014 [2 favorites]

We treat our 22 year old cat's hyperthyroidism with a Methimazole gel which is gently rubbed on the inside of her ear once a day and she's doing well on that dose.


This may be expensive, I'm unsure as to medication costs aside from my local area.
posted by lucien at 7:31 AM on January 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Please don't underestimate the impact of treating your cat's thyroid problem. A few years ago my now 18 year old cat was having a lot of the same issues that you describe - frequent vomiting, peeing and pooping outside the litter box, fur felt scraggly and unclean, plus night yowling, unusually stinky poop and a generally bad attitude. I thought it was just old age, but I was completely wrong. As soon as we put him on medication and got his thyroid under control, all of those problems disappeared and he's like a new cat! All this time his bad behavior was him just feeling super lousy from the thyroid and trying to tell us, we just weren't listening.

We actually had a chance to test the cause and effect of the thyroid problem a few months ago. We had switched from the medication to controlling his thyroid with Hill's Y/D prescription food for a while, and it was working pretty well, though he didn't much care for the canned version and was mostly eating the dry. This led to a near-fatal bout of constipation and severe dehydration a few months ago so we switched him to regular canned food just to get him to start eating again and his thyroid went unregulated for about a month. Within a few weeks off the prescription food, all of those same symptoms - vomiting, peeing and pooping out of the litter box, scraggly fur, and super stinky poop - came right back but this time I recognized it as thyroid issues and got him right back on the medication. A few weeks later - thyroid was regulated again and symptoms gone!

So if your cat has been diagnosed with hyperthyroid, please please try treating him for it and see if that helps clear the problems up, you may be amazed at the difference it makes!
posted by platinum at 12:01 PM on January 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

[More advice less ranting pet stories and attacking other commenters please.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:23 PM on January 19, 2014

Two cats require three litterboxes. The rule is one more litterbox than you have cats. Sounds like you have two cats and one litterbox and are thus at a litterbox deficit of two units.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:19 PM on January 19, 2014

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